This week sees the launch of Heriot-Watt’s first Principal Fellowship supported cohort and the opening of applications for our next Senior Fellowship group.  In this blog, Martha Caddell and James Wilson consider the importance of reflecting on teaching impact and hear from colleagues about their journey to Fellowship.

The focus on impact is a familiar one across the university setting.  Research impact statements are key to our REF submissions.  Education enhancement efforts focus on indicators of positive change emerging from institutional strategies and actions.  While there is a risk of a reductive focus on a narrow set of metrics of ‘valued change’, developing an impact narrative can open space for critical reflection, creativity and an increase in confidence.   This is as important at an individual level as it is for institutional contexts.  What difference do we – individually and collectively – make to the student learning experience and how do we influence the work of colleagues across the university and wider HE sector?

One of the important ways of reflecting on this impact and having your experienced recognised – in Heriot-Watt and across the sector – is through Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, an internationally recognised professional accreditation linked to the UK Professional Standards Framework.  

Reflecting on Teaching Impact: The Significance of Fellowship

Achieving Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy is about celebrating great teaching and support for students – across the University and across the whole sector.  Whether you are an academic or in a Professional Services role, exploring Fellowship can help you reflect on and articulate your individual efforts, practice and impact.

  • For Associate and Fellow level, the focus is on your direct support for students, how you are influencing their learning and supporting them through their university studies.
  • For Senior and Principal Fellow, you are encouraged to focus on leadership and the strategic change that you have been able to effect. Here the impact you have on your colleagues and the work of others is critical, opening space to consider how you have consistently enhanced practice across your institution or the wider higher education sector.

“You don’t need to be in school senior management to be eligible. The best way to start is to think about how you have influenced colleagues in their teaching. It could be through a programme director or year co-ordinator role or through something like a programme re-design. Make a list of all the things you have done that fit the bill and you will probably find you have quite a few things that fit the criteria.”  – Dr Craig Robinson, SFHEA

The four categories reflect the wide range of professional practice carried out by colleagues who teach or support learning in higher education.  Advance HE has made available a Category Tool where you can answer a few questions in about ten minutes and it will issue you with a PDF report of your responses. This will enable you to see which category/level of fellowship closely represents your current practice.

Engaging with Fellowship, at the appropriate level for you, is a good way to explore your individual impact and affirm your approach to supporting students and leading change.  It is also a nationally and internationally recognised marker of achievement, so can be practically useful as an indicator of professional esteem when you apply for new roles or promotion.

“Going through the application to SFHEA required me to zoom out, evaluate the activities I engaged in and link these to the professional standards framework and professional values. Within that context, leadership was not about making decisions, but being able to initiate positive change.  My two case studies were about my time here at Heriot-Watt. There I demonstrated how small and focussed initiatives can have considerable impact in improving the student learning and teaching environment.”  – Dr Hind Zantout, SFHEA

Leadership, Collegiality and Impact:  The Value of Senior Fellowship

Embarking on Senior Fellowship can be especially valuable for colleagues extending their leadership skills in learning and teaching as it offers a widely recognised indicator of professional achievement and opens the door to a sector-wide community of practice and support.

Developing your impact narrative and exploring case studies of your practice can be a powerful tool to help you consider your leadership approach and how your particular practice supports and influences the work of others. This is likely to be a narrative of collaboration and a chance to highlight your approach to working closely with colleagues and in partnership with our students to ensure that positive change flows from your work.

“You need to be very selective in providing two representative case studies from your professional Practice which have tangible impact across the University and focus on the leadership/management of specific aspects of Learning and Teaching provision.

Allow some time for brainstorming and reflections during the preparation phase to consider the best cases studies to choose from all that you have achieved.  Good Luck!” – Dr Fadi Ghaith, SFHEA

Embarking on a Fellowship Journey

Heriot-Watt’s Learning and Teaching Academy supports colleagues through their Fellowship journey, from Associate Fellow through to Principal Fellow.

  • The Learning About Learning course leads to Associate Fellowship (AFHEA).
  • Successful completion of the PG Certificate in Teaching and Learning leads to full Fellowship (FHEA).
  • The Learning and Teaching Academy now offers supported pathways to Senior and Principal fellowship. Those involve workshops and writing retreats to help colleagues reflect on practice and practically find the time to prepare their applications amidst their busy work schedules.

“Some people find it very difficult to talk in terms of ‘I’ rather than ‘we’, but it’s vital to be clear about your individual contributions and impact. When reflecting on collaborative projects, sometimes it’s helpful to imagine what would have happened had you not been involved.

Practically, I’d recommend scheduling a couple of blocks of 2-3 consecutive writing days (ideally in a library or somewhere with minimal distractions), no more than 2 weeks apart. This is difficult to achieve but the momentum it generates makes much more effective use of your time compared to the more piecemeal approach.” – Stuart Allan, SFHEA

Applications are now open for the 2021 SFHEA cohort who will begin their Senior Fellowship journey in January.  We’d encourage colleagues leading educational enhancement initiatives – as programme directors, global course team leads, RBL mentors, project leads, learning technologists and more – to take the plunge and sign up.


  • Notes of interest in joining the next Senior Fellowship cohort can be sent to or contact Alex Buckley or James Wilson for an informal conversation.
  • The next Principal Fellowship Pathway will open for applications in late Spring 2021.